Bellingen is another new stage and virtually the entire test is under trees. It begins on narrow roads, but is generally fast with a clean surface. There are plenty of dips and jumps and it undulates throughout.
How the action unfolded:
Rally leader Sebastien Ogier maintained his unbroken run of Friday stage wins on the repeated Bellingen, but with less than two seconds covering the four fastest drivers it was tight at the top.
“We had a good drive, and it’s a nice stage now the grip is better than it was this morning,” said Ogier.
Citroen DS3 driver Mikko Hirvonen was second fastest, 1.4sec slower that Oger to end the stage 13.1sec adrift in the overall standings. “I wasn’t so fast here this morning but it felt much better now, and I was braver over the jumps,” he said.
Thierry Neuville was third quickest, the Belgian increasingly comfortable on the Australian stages in his Ford Fiesta RS. “I could have gone quicker but in some places I took it steady, no big risks,” he said. “I really enjoyed this one, much better than the first pass and my pace notes are much better as well.”
Jari-Matti Latvala set the fourth fastest time in his Polo R. “It feels like it’s getting better and I felt even more comfortable on this stage,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how the time compares.”
The time turned out to be enough for Latvala to move up to seventh, ahead of a confused Evgeny Novikov. “The stage was okay and we were close to the split times of Jari-Matti until the final section when we lost three seconds. I don’t know why. It’s very strange,” he said.
Kris Meeke was sixth fastest, and taking time to understand more about his Citroen’s handling on the cleaner roads. “The grip level has increased since the morning pass and now we have quite a lot of understeer,” he explained. “I’m still learning a lot about the car, I’m not here to fight for the victory.”
At the finish control, Mads Ostberg was furious to discover that he had set the eighth fastest time in his Fiesta RS. “I’m pushing very hard, it was a perfect stage. I don’t understand anything,” he said before leaving for the final gravel stage of the day.